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Paul, Babe brought to life

The Brightwell family stands next to Paul Bunyan for a picture. Four generations of Brightwells visited Bemidji to see Paul and Babe this summer. Pioneer Photo/Delaney Daly

I watched as the town's plaid-clad lumberjack and bright blue ox were brought to life by a thunderstorm that turned a relatively calm lake into a white-capped monster.

The flashes and cracks of nearby bolts of lightning imitated the glinting blade of Paul's axe felling massive timber.

The deep, rolling rumbles of ground-shaking thunder mimicked the snorts, grunts and hoof-strikes of Babe's powerful legs.

According to noted historians, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox once spent their days logging trees of mythical size and creating the thousands of lakes that are Minnesota's claim to fame.

But today, Paul and Babe are no longer creating the landscape. Instead, they are found retired, standing guard over the waterfront of Lake Bemidji.

While this may seem like an uneventful and lonesome venture, the two giants were greeted throughout my stay by hundreds of visitors.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a stormy Tuesday, Paul and Babe were visited and photographed by people from Ontario, Wisconsin, California, North Carolina, Iowa, Indiana, Manitoba, Missouri, Florida, New York, Nebraska and Virginia.

Not to mention the people from places in Minnesota such as St. Paul, Grand Rapids and Thief River Falls.

While Bemidji is not usually the destination for these tourists, it is a place they had planned to stop, many times only for a quick visit with the legendary logging duo.

Around 11 a.m., leafy green trees began to sway precariously and tattered flags snapped like a bullwhips as the gusting wind bore down with increased voracity.

But even though the wind made raindrops feel like small rocks, people still ran from their cars and recreational vehicles, heads down and faces covered, to snap a couple family pictures.

Around noon, the storm decided to take a short break and, almost as if I was in the eye of a hurricane, the sun hesitantly peeked out from behind the dark clouds.

For the first time of the day, I could really get a good look at the illuminated bodies of Paul and Babe.

Standing there, tall and barrel-chested, with his rough black hair complemented by a black cap, was Paul Bunyan. With long, black sideburns and a thick, dark moustache, the corners of his mouth twisted up in a slight grin around a black pipe.

His upper body was covered by the archetypal red and black plaid long-sleeve that ended just short of his white hands. The bottoms of the dark blue-jeans revealed maroon long johns that led into ankle-high black boots.

Babe the Blue Ox was as bright and as blue as the sky on only the sunniest of summer days. A patch of black hair covered the area between his two long, black-tipped, ivory-colored horns.

Thick, muscular legs led down to ivory-colored hooves. A blue tail swooped around to the left haunch and ended with a swooshing, fanned black tip.

Looking at the scene, my mind drifted off, and soon I was traipsing around backwoods Minnesota with the two massive figures. We were chopping trees, hauling logs and making lakes in the warmth of summer air.

I was skating with blocks of butter on my feet, greasing a giant skillet for flapjacks the size of kiddy pools when I was brought back to reality by a low rumbling sound.

Sitting on my little wooden bench, the noise I had thought was Paul's laugh or Babe's grunt melded into thunder and the sun disappeared as the rain returned.